Excerpts from a conversation between Nani and Hemanth Kumar.
It's been 11-and-a-half years since your debut, and your upcoming film with Mohan Krishna Indraganti is your 25th. Is there a sense of fulfillment or achievement when you look back at your career?
Achievement? Definitely not. Blessed, yeah. There's a sense of gratitude for a lot of things, for a lot of people. Achievement… I think there's a long way to go.
But is there something you're trying to achieve that you think you've not achieved yet?
No. Not really. See, every film teaches me something new. Each film teaches you what you don't know and how much you don't know. What I am yet to explore as a performer, as a technician, as a producer, what kind of talent is out there and the kind of work I have… I understand that even more. I think there was a feeling of some sense of achievement after the initial few films, but not now. I feel like after 25 films, I've achieved nothing.
It's like Rajnikanth said in Baba, "Telisindi gorantha teliyalsindi kondantha" (What you know is miniscule compared to what you don't know)
Yeah. We know how much we don't know when we actually learn new things.
Where do you derive your drive to work from? Because, you've said in many interviews that you're not looking for a blockbuster and you want to do good films. What motivates you?
The drive undoubtedly comes from my mad love for cinema. I find a high in every film I do, in every performance and in the output. I tell everyone that the release day, when audiences watch the film, is very special. It is not special because it's the day of results; it is special because the experience of showing the audience the film is a high. I enjoy every process related to cinema. If shooting is over, I am not the type that just goes back home. I'll have film-related meetings. It's not just because I want to do something better, but there's a lot of fun in it. I enjoy it a lot. I enjoy a lot when the RR is being done and posted. I enjoy watching cuts on edits. Every process related to cinema, I enjoy a lot. I think that's my drive. I'm not trying to reach somewhere or achieve something. I love the process and the journey. The biggest reward in my life is this experience. Not the result of this experience, but the experience itself. That's why I don't take breaks between films. Because this is my reward. I want this as much as possible. The result is different. But the enjoyment I get while doing the films, that's the peak of what I can expect for myself. So, I think that's the drive.
Let's speak about the effect some of the directors you've worked with have had on you. Let's begin with Mohan Krishna Indraganti.
There's something you learn from everyone. Mohan sir believes that if you're calm and relaxed, the output will automatically be all right. I can't tell that I've learnt it fully. I can't be as cool as him. Mohan garu believes that a film will turn out well. Even after listening to the basic version, he'll believe that the final version will be fine. I've seen Mohan sir's belief come true, and I've seen the fears of anxious people come true. After seeing Mohan Sir, I feel that if you look at everything positively and believe everything will turn out well, it will eventually turn out well.
What about Nag Ashwin? You've worked with him in Yevade Subramanyam.
Not just me… but everyone who has worked with Nag will know this. He's someone who can't be compared to anybody. There's no quality in Nagi which is similar to other directors. (laughs). Not even one. It's an extreme to what Mohan sir is. Mohan sir will take care of the basics, check for all references, set up everything and then believe it will turn out well. Nagi isn't like that. Nagi believes that everything will turn out fine as soon as he gets the idea in his mind. For Yevade Subramanyam, we were in the hills. Nobody understood how we could go and return or if it's even possible. If there's anybody in the entire team that didn't have these questions, it was Nagi. He just leaves it to the universe. It's almost like he's telling the Universe: 'I believe in this. Take us there. It'll happen if it has to happen'. He's a baba who's a director. You can't put a bracket around him…it's some kind of energy. You have to go wherever he takes you in that flow.
Who is the exact opposite of Nag Ashwin among the directors you've worked with? Someone who is very hands-on?
I think SS Rajamouli sir. He's into every department, everything. He already has a fixed vision of what he wants and he knows how to get it. He's not leaving anything to anybody, the universe or people. (laughs) Because, he knows exactly what he wants.
Let's talk about V. What about this film got you excited?
I like Mohan sir's narrations a lot. He narrates really well. There's a happy energy. I know about Sammohanam, his previous film. I thought he was going to narrate a fun script. I was initially shocked when I heard the script, but I really loved it. So there's a good guy and a bad guy. He narrated it like a story. He said I was going to play the bad guy. I thanked him for that because that's the character I connected with when he was narrating, and I was very happy that he approached me. Then Sudheer came in. Mohan sir has already worked with him in Sammohanam. But before I went in to shoot, they'd already finished a schedule with Sudheer. I didn't know what was happening because I was on the shoot of Gang Leader. I saw the visuals of the first schedule. The genre was different from his other films. This was a Mohan Sir. Everything from the visuals to the dialogues were different. In V, there's a bad angle to my character. I'm a villain to Sudheer. You have to watch to know if I'm a villain to the audiences or not. Sometimes, we love the villain no? He's that villain.